Medicare Advantage plans expanded their supplemental benefits offerings in 2022, with more health plans offering special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill (SSBCI), according to an issue brief commissioned by Better Medicare Alliance.
Medicare beneficiaries typically join Medicare Advantage plans because of the array of supplemental benefits that the program offers in addition to traditional Medicare benefits.
Supplemental benefits may build on the existing services Medicare covers by lowering deductibles, or they may provide coverage for services that Medicare fee-for-service does not offer, such as dental, vision, and Part D drug coverage.
For contract year 2022, Medicare Advantage plans increased the number of supplemental benefits offered across all categories, including SSBCI, traditional supplemental benefits, and expanded supplemental benefits.
Members with diabetes, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were the most common populations to receive these targeted benefits in 2022, the brief revealed.
In 2021, 815 Medicare Advantage plans offered SSBCI benefits to chronically ill members. This number increased by 38 percent in 2022 to 1,127 plans.
When looking at the breakdown of categories, the food and produce benefit saw the most significant increase in plans, with 348 Medicare Advantage plans offering the benefit in 2021 and 767 plans in 2022. The meals benefit that was offered beyond a limited basis was also widely available in 2022, with 403 plans providing coverage.
This year, the number of Medicare Advantage plans to offer SSBCI benefits increased in 16 out of 19 categories, according to the brief.
The number of Medicare Advantage plans offering traditional supplemental benefits grew in 2022 as well.
Vision and hearing benefits were the most widely offered traditional supplemental benefits in 2022, with more than 5,000 plans covering the services. Most Medicare Advantage plans offered hearing (94 percent) and dental care coverage (91 percent), while 85 percent offered over-the-counter benefits and 50 percent provided transportation benefits.
The number of plans offering coverage for remote access technologies, smoking cessation counseling, and nutritional benefits also grew substantially in 2022, the brief noted.
With more plans offering a wide range of benefits this year, Better Medicare Alliance found that 99.9 percent of Medicare Advantage plans will offer supplemental benefits that are not available in fee-for-service Medicare.
“Medicare Advantage’s value-based framework continues to spur more benefit offerings that are helping seniors manage disease progression and live with dignity and independence,” A. Mark Fendrick, MD, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Value-Based Insurance Design and member of Better Medicare Alliance’s Council of Scholars, said in a press release.
“This wellspring of benefit offerings gives further credence to Medicare Advantage’s role as a leader in addressing social determinants and offer lessons on how we might improve patient-centered outcomes, enhance equity, and increase efficiency of health care spending.”
In 2019, CMS expanded the scope of supplemental benefits and allowed Medicare Advantage plans to offer additional benefits. These benefits included in-home support services, medically-approved non-opioid pain management, caregiver support, home-based palliative care, and adult day health services.
In 2022, the number of Medicare Advantage plans offering supplemental benefits grew in four out of five of these categories. A total of 575 plans offered at least one expanded benefit in 2021. That number increased to 824 plans in 2022. Additionally, 202 Medicare Advantage plans offered more than one expanded supplemental benefit this year.
Policymakers and healthcare stakeholders have heavily advocated for Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits.
More than 340 US House of Representatives members recently wrote to CMS urging the agency to preserve supplemental benefits as the agency considers updates to the Medicare Advantage program for 2023.
Healthcare providers have also noted that Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits helped patients isolate and follow provider directions better during the COVID-19 pandemic.